There are three things that are certain in this world; death, taxes, and encountering work-related stress. Whether your job is a means to an end or your dream career, the stress of workloads, difficult tasks, or long hours are certain to sneak up on you at one point or another.
Unfortunately, that’s just part of the parcel. Manageable levels of stress can be a good thing; making successes feel earned, setting a benchmark for progress and success, or even acting as a motivator. The problem lies with constant or intense levels of stress that can become detrimental to your physical and mental health.
There are some tell-tale signs to indicate you may have hit your stress threshold. When you begin to exceed a manageable level of stress, you may feel a general sense of irritability, restlessness, or worry; shrugging this off as “a bad day” “tiredness” or perhaps even more dismissively, “fine”. If disguised for too long, these symptoms can become the first bricks in a productivity wall that hinders both your personal and professional life with the cost of both physical and mental health. It’s crucial to prevent this snowballing effect before it becomes unmanageable and you become snowed under.
So with that being said, here are a few tips and things to bear in mind when faced with mounting pressures in your work life. We’ll cover advice for your general day-to-day, as well as specific things to consider in and out of work hours.
Lets get back to basics.
Before we delve into quashing the more covert causes of stress from your day-to-day, your working practices, or even your headspace, let’s keep things simple. One of the biggest contributors to stress (and I’m sure you could see this coming) is a deprivation of the basic needs for good health: sleep, diet, and exercise.
Revolutionary stuff. Of course, It’s easier said than done to implement these factors into your life when the challenges of a busy day take priority. Particularly in the videogames industry, with many individuals working long hours, stationary in front of a blue-lit screen. The first step might be the hardest to overcome, but bringing in even the most minimal changes to habits affecting your general health will bring about a world of good, and will set in motion continuous and more substantial benefits.
Let’s start with sleep
It’s almost universally known that 8 hours of sleep a night is the recommended amount for human function – but just because it’s well-known doesn’t mean it’s well-followed. Whether you spend your evening hours with a controller in hand or working on that last iteration of code; you may fail to regularly hit your sleep quota. A lack of sleep can negatively affect both physical and mental function, increasing stress levels directly and as a byproduct of decreased productivity.
You don’t have to be benching the biggest ‘bells to reap the benefits of exercise. The treasure that is physical activity is bountiful, and let me tell you; it’s one worth plundering. Exercise has been proven to reduce stress in numerous ways; on a tangible level, endorphin production is increased, a hormone responsible for happiness. More abstractly, exercise is cathartic, releasing tension (quite literally), while also providing an escape from life’s stresses. As little as a few minutes of light exercises a day, the investment of a standing desk, or even a good stretch every so often is enough to get the ball rolling – but if you really want to feel the benefit, then regular, varied exercise is definitely something to consider implementing into your lifestyle.
It goes without saying that a balanced diet is crucial for good health, but what you might not have considered is how this can be directly applicable to your levels of stress. In the most basic sense, getting the right nutritional balance will improve energy, focus, and productivity. Without this, we’re back to decreased productivity, increased stress, and the cycle continues. Worse still, a lack of food also increases irritability and mistakes; you’re not you when you’re hungry as the saying goes, and you’re not working at your best if you skip out on breakfast or work through your lunch break, either.
With the obvious out of the way, here are some things you can do to combat stress.
Outside of work – you just don’t know how to switch off!
Built up stress is commonly remedied by a true break from it, time away from your workload and the iterative loops of day-to-day life (one for the programmers). If possible, make use of your holiday allowance to allow yourself to refresh, reset, and refocus your attention upon your return.
While it’d be great to take time off as and when you like; that simply isn’t a privilege the majority of us have. So with that in mind, it’s crucial that when you are off the clock, you switch off! That includes leaving your emails at work, too. If you have the time and energy, try investing more into your hobbies, or exploring new ones. If you can find yourself something that you’re truly passionate about outside of the videogames space, even better – while many will love to stream, speedrun, or simply game casually, to completely detach from that world will give you the biggest benefit.
A companion piece to physical exercise; embracing the world of mindful exercise is a somewhat cliche yet surprisingly effective way of destressing. You don’t need to go the whole 9 yards for mindfulness to stop your brain from running at 1000 miles an hour either; a few minutes of casual meditation will provide both instant and lasting stress relief throughout the day. There are plenty of guided meditation podcasts and apps available, and it won’t be long for you to find one right for you. It may feel a little strange or difficult at first, with plenty of thoughts and emotions clambering for your attention, but after a short while, you’ll have a stronger dominion over your thought processes and headspaces.
If you work from home as many now do due to recent events I needn’t mention, you may find yourself with cabin fever or the inability to switch off from work. I can’t stress enough how important it is to segregate your working environment from your living environment, not just moving from your bedroom to your living room – a designated space for work and work alone is vital to remote working. Psychologically, moving between spaces acts as a “switch” in your headspace; without it, this can affect both your sleep and your overall quality of downtime, leaving you drained and unfocused.
Unsurprisingly, work-related stress is most likely to rear its head in the workplace. The biggest culprit for this is most commonly overbearing workloads; especially if you’re working during a crunch. If you’re employed by a studio with a positive and communicative work culture and you find your workload too heavy, it’s important to open up a dialogue in regards to the feasibility of deadlines or the number of active projects; this is all the more crucial if you find your mental health suffering as a result. When these things aren’t the source of your stress, however, there are certain practices or habits that you may have found yourself stuck in without even realising it.
Your brain, in essence, is a supercomputer. While that does mean that it is incredible at multitasking and processing, it also means that managing active tasks work like loading into cache memory. When you switch from one project to another, you have to reload your thought processes, your focus, and your attention span. When done frequently (such as switching between changing music, checking emails, creating code or art) you exert far more mental energy than you would tackling each task individually, and are significantly less productive in all tasks you were trying to accomplish.
Instead, commit to one task at a time, making proper use of task management software, and take the occasional break when needed. Psychologists theorise that once you dedicate your unwavering time and attention to a solitary project, you’ll become fully immersed in the task, energised, and productive; known as a flow state. The external influences of the world take a backseat in your train of thought; but this can only be achieved through commitment to a task, honing in your focus and attention.
Paradoxically, it is equally as critical to take occasional breaks away from mentally taxing work, particularly lengthy projects or convoluted programming problems. A flow can only last so long before you become burnt out, unfocused and restless. When you find your attention and productivity has been compromised, stick the kettle on, having a watercooler chat, or even taking a minute to recollect yourself and reset before jumping back in to tackle the work in question at maximum impact.
They say the first step to tidying your bedroom is to make your bed; this is the simplest task that has the greatest impact on the overall cleanliness of the room. The same principle applies to an overbearing task. Segmenting the project into clear and concise items, prioritising the most crucial will make your workload seem wieldable, and will give you a more realistic time frame to project completion. Furthermore, with every ticked-off target comes a feeling of accomplishment and motivation to move on to the next task.
Alter your workflow
Sometimes, the mundanity of dragging yourself through the same processes, the same software, or the same methods can cause restlessness. Switching things up will not only give you a refresh on your perspective, but your newfound curiosity to explore features and functionality may even improve or speed up your workflows or finished products!
The initial symptoms of stress can very easily be dismissed internally and externally, but with the progression of positive workplace attitudes and a destigmatisation of the dialogue surrounding mental health, seeking support from those your trust and professional support is now more accessible, and should be actively encouraged should you find yourself struggling. Work related stress could be a symptom of an underlying problem, and you should reach out to a health professional if you aren’t seeing improvement.
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